Weight not volume

“Sold by weight not by volume,” the words on the Corn Flakes box always spoke with an air of authority, as though a legal declaration was being made at the kitchen table each morning, as though the red Formica-topped table was the site of daily participation in British jurisprudence.

Initially, the words seemed baffling, “volume” in our house referred to how loud the television or radio were played. When the meaning of volume in the context of a cardboard box was explained, it seemed not so much baffling as odd. If it said sixteen ounces on the front of the carton, then it would be only proper to expect that there would be sixteen ounces inside the packet, no matter how much or how little space the pound of Corn Flakes filled.

The explanation offered was that Kellogg’s needed to put the words on the front in case someone opened the box and, finding that the sixteen ounces had settled and did not fill the space, complained that the box was not full. In the perception of a schoolboy, this seemed like going to the village shop for a quarter pound of sherbet bonbons and complaining that the sweets purchased did not fill the white paper bag in which they had been placed by the kindly shopkeeper.

It seemed an early lesson in being wary of people who might try to turn situations to their own advantage: a pound of Corn Flakes might mean a pound of Corn Flakes to almost everyone, but if someone could somehow claim they expected more, they could claim to have been short sold.

Much of the claims industry seems to rest on the notion that things are not as they are assumed to be unless one makes repeated statements that this is how it is, and that everyone should take note that this is how it is, and that those who do not take note that this is how it is do so at their own risk. Warning signs sometimes seem as simplistic as saying, “sixteen ounces equal sixteen ounces.” One will see notices warning that there is a danger of death by electrocution at the foot of pylons or a danger of drowning beside fast-flowing rivers.

A child would know such things, but it seems necessary to advise adults of such realities, or risk a claim for damages if something calamitous should happen. Worst of all, there is an entire industry surrounding the seeking of compensation, firms advertising on radio stations asking people who have had accidents to contact them as there may be financial damages due to them.

Did the rot begin in the days when Kellogg’s had to advise their breakfast cereal was sold by weight and not by volume? Isn’t it time that the government enacted an “Act of Responsibility” making stupid choices the responsibility of those who make them?

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